Dr Besigye’s support in the Rwenzori sub-region has majorly been the Bakonzo, who accuse President Museveni of failing to address their problems. They, therefore, argue that it’s this imbalance of services that they base on to “punish” Museveni. Kasese was the only district in western Uganda to return FDC MPs in the 2006 general election. It was also the only district in western Uganda where Dr Kizza Besigye beat President Museveni. When Museveni lost to Besigye in Kasese District during the 2006 presidential elections, he rushed to recognise the Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu to please the Bakonzo, who had longed for their cultural independence.
The recognition of this kingdom in 2009 was good news to the Bakonzo. However, Museveni was still surprised in 2011 when Kasese again voted Besigye, although Museveni emerged winner. It went beyond the issue of the recognition of the kingdom of the Bakonzo since Mr Museveni’s hopes of trouncing Besigye in the area were shattered. Following the current political dynamics in the Rwenzori sub-region, Dr Besigye’s strongholds, especially in Kasese, seem to have thought otherwise. Most of them claim that he has failed to get power from Mr Museveni despite contesting thrice.
When Dr Besigye won the contest for FDC presidential flag bearer, beating Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu to contest for the fourth time in the 2016 presidential elections, majority of Dr Besigye’s supporters in Kasese criticised him for being greedy. Mr Joseph Musema, the FDC chairperson for Kisinga Sub-county in Kasese District, withdrew his support for Dr Besigye, saying he must have given time for another party official to take on Museveni. Musema, along with other supporters, then defected to the ruling NRM party. FDC was also hit a heavy blow when one of its vocal members and former MP for Busongora South, Mr Christopher Kibanzanga, crossed to the NRM in October.
After the meeting between the President and the delegation of the Bakonzo and Bamba/Babwisi elders to find ways of restoring peace in the Rwenzori sub-region, following the July 5, 2014, attacks, many political commentators predicted a decline in Dr Besigye’s support. Mr Augustine Mbalibulha, one of the opinion leaders in Kasese, says people in the area could have made up their minds to support the incumbent in order to get services. He adds that Dr Besigye’s chances of winning an election are now minimal because most of the Bakonzo voted for him when the President had delayed to recognise the Obusinga Bwa Rwenzururu, of which he has since done.
“People here have been supporting Dr Besigye in the previous elections because Museveni had not attended to their demands. However, it could be hard for him to win an election because Museveni has tried to ground himself in the area by having structures there. Dr Besigye’s failure to maintain his structures at the grass root might see him lose in Kasese,” says Mr Mbalibulha. The Kasese Municipality Mayor, Mr Godfrey Kabyanga, like Mr Mbalibulha, also says Dr Besigye’s popularity in Rwenzori was because the President hadn’t recognised the Kingdom of Rwenzururu.
“People voted for Besigye in the 2006 presidential elections out of emotions because he had promised them that he would recognise the Rwenzururu Kingdom. In the Rwenzori sub-region, roads have been constructed even in the mountains, the airfield is in place and the railway is about to resume,” Mr Kabyanga says. Mr Kabyanga, however, stresses that he cannot under estimate Dr Besigye’s support, saying he is already grounded in the Rwenzori sub-region and that although his support has declined, it doesn’t mean that NRM should take him for granted. He says people in Kasese vote basing on one’s competence and that if Opposition candidates exhibit this, they will definitely win.
However, the Woman MP for Kasese District (FDC), Ms Winfred Kiiza, says although Mr Museveni has penetrated the area, Dr Besigye still remains strong there, arguing that the former has failed to resolve some of the key issues that the Bakonzo need to be addressed. She says Museveni’s failure to settle wrangles between the Bakonzo and the Basongora will see him drastically lose in Kasese this time round. “Thousands of people were evicted from their land by the government which claimed that they were encroaching on the national park. Our hospitals are not catered for and yet people need treatment. So now how do you say Museveni will win an election in Kasese?” Ms Kiiza wonders.